During an election year one of the conversations that inevitably surfaces is over whether or not America is Christian nation. How one defines “Christian nation” greatly determines how we answer the question and orient ourselves around this issue. I’m currently reading through Wayne Grudem’s Politics According To The Bible. Early in the book he lists nine questions that are really helpful in picking through the issues surrounding this question. Below are his questions and my summary of his answers.
1. Is Christian teaching the primary religious system that influenced the foundation of the United States?
Yes it is.
2. Were the Founding Fathers of the United States Christians who generally believed in the truth of the Bible?
Yes, the majority were.
3. Is Christianity (of various sorts) the largest religion in the United States?
Yes it is.
4. Did Christian beliefs provide the intellectual background that led to many of the cultural values still held by Americans today?
Yes. Here Grudem is referring to values such as care for the poor and weak, hard work, protection of individual rights, and the value of generosity.
5. Was there a Supreme Court decision at one time that affirmed that the United States in a Christian nation?
Grudem says yes here and supports his answer by appealing to Church of the Holy Trinity v. the United States 143 US (1892). The case decided that a church had the right to hire a minister from another country. It was cited that because of the overall Christian character of the nation, this action would not be in violation of an 1885 law prohibiting foreigners and aliens to perform labor in the United States. Grudem infers from this that the Supreme Court was in fact arguing that America was a Christian nation.
6. Are a majority of people in the United States Bible-believing, evangelical, born-again Christians?
No. The percentages say that America is somewhere between 18% to 42% evangelical. He believes 20% is a realistic number. While Grudem does not include Roman Catholics in the question, he argues that even if they were included it would not constitute a majority of people in the US.
7. Is belief in Christian values the dominant perspective promoted by the United States government, the media, and universities in the United States today?
8. Does the United States promote Christianity as the national religion?
No, it does not.
9. Does a person have to profess Christian faith in order to become a US citizen or to have equal rights under the law in the United States?
No. This has never been the case. This would be in direct violation of Article VI, section 3 of the Constitution.
So is America a Christian nation? It depends. If you need to answer yes to all nine questions, then America is clearly not a Christian nation, and never was. But I am not convinced that a yes to all of these would mean that America is a Christian nation given that some of them, if true, would violate the teachings of Christianity. On the other hand, would it be more consistent with the Bible to answer questions 1-5 with a yes and 6-9 with a no? Perhaps.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.